In the United States of America, the year 2016 shook Americans to new realities of how racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and job-losses are redefining contemporary politics. These factors led to the defeat of dye-in-the-wool politicians like Hillary Rodham Clinton of the Democratic Party by an outsider, Donald Trump, in the race to the White House. While one cannot argue that the same problems had afflicted Nigeria in equal measure, last year, the country had experienced one of its worst economic meltdowns, called a “recession.”
Those who did not feel the bite of the recession simply did not live in Nigeria last year. Tales of hardship among ordinary Nigerians were everywhere. And they were very palpable. The value of the Naira against the USD hit 500. This took the prices of all consumables through the roof. Once local and cheap staples became gold. Families, even the influential ones rationed their meals. Peasants resorted to ‘mercy-stealing’ while the once generous types sealed their pockets.
The two major holders of Nigeria’s regular livelihoods, farmers and herdsmen, grabbed each other’s jugular and this was even before the Agriculture ministry declared the possibility of a draught. Farmers had become desperate and herdsmen had become wild. Among the nation’s elites, things were far from rosy. The economy which was battered by factors from within and without further took the gradually recovering good name of the nation back to damnation, sometimes unjustly and uncharacteristically unfair, on many issues.
Nigeria, on the brink, looked more divided in 2016 because politicians were playing to the gallery and championing interests other than that of the nation. Some even perfected the art of playing with fire, oblivious to the dangers they pose in the long run and for a multi-cultural, multi-lingual contraption like ours. To boot, politicians were always in the news, hawking hate and prejudices from both sides of the divide.
It required a phenomenal sense of responsibility to waddle out of the nonsense. Simple solutions to the nation’s economic woes had become few and far between. Fortunately it all coincided with the tenure of the young Governor of Zamfara State, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari Abubakar, as the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum. And it was an emergency. Knowing that time was not on his side, Abdulaziz Yari Abubakar hit the ground running.
One of the first things the NGF Chairman did was to work for synergy among the governors who form the integral pillar of the country’s political pyramid. As his cardinal covenant with the forum, Yari moved to reintegrate all the members from the opposition who hitherto felt like fish out of water. Unity achieved, he then set out to find soft-landing for states, using his well-watered closeness with President Muhammadu Buhari.
Always even-handed, Yari ensured a level playing field as all committee work, visitations and assignments of the forum were shared equally among members without prejudice to political party inclination. Indeed, this turned out to be a good way to kill a hydra-headed serpent.
Many observers of the NGF had argued that even if this was the only thing that Yari achieved in his chairmanship of the nation’s 36 governors, he would be recorded favourably for having succeeded in reuniting them. But that is not all. Under Governor Yari’s leadership of the NGF Nigeria was declared polio-free by the WHO and struck off the list of at-risk countries for the epidemic. Thanks to the NGF Chairman, more hands have been added to embellish the status of the NGF as a policy hub and a clearing house for governors with regards to their engagement with development partners, locally and internationally.
Governor Abdulaziz Yari Abubakar has also worked assiduously to endear the NGF to the presidency especially to President Muhammadu Buhari himself who has always viewed politicians like a bunch with whom he would dine only with a long spoon. Today, PMB would hardly take any decisions in his government without seeking the opinion of governors.
The Director General of the NGF Mr. Asishana Okauru who has served at least three of the Chairmen of the NGF and known first hand their different strengths and weaknesses had once remarked that what he sees and perhaps even likes about ‘Governor Yari is that he has an insatiable drive for results and he never tires until what he sets to do, is done.’ This may however sound like an understatement when viewed from the praxis of what Abdulaziz Yari Abubakar has done in 2016, to help reflate the economy and drive it out of the woods.
If today most Nigerians who were already becoming disillusioned with the efforts of government are smiling to the banks because in Plateau state, all arrears of salaries of civil servants are being paid and the pensions of retirees are also being settled and in Ogun state about N2.5bn has been set aside for the same exercise and in Jigawa N1.9bn is earmarked for workers 2017 palaver to mention but a few, the credit rests squarely on the shoulders of the Chairman of the NGF Dr. Abdulaziz Yari Abubakar whose tireless sagacity was deployed tactically to pump money into the economy. Besides it was Governor Yari who successfully secured the nod of President Muhammadu Buhari to gratuitously assent to the demand for the refund of the Paris and London Clubs loans deductions, since the commencement of democracy in the country in 1999, which many states received in December.
As a reward for this remarkable achievement, at a meeting of the NGF on December 16th where the Chairman, Governor Abdulaziz Yari Abubakkar, confirmed that the money was ready to be disbursed to the states’ accounts, the governor of Ekiti state, Ayo Fayose, had led other governors to hail their chairman saying ‘you can remain Chairman for life’ amidst resounding applause by more than 29 governors who were in attendance at the International Conference Centre, Abuja. And for all Nigerians whose hopes have been rekindled or whose backlog of emoluments have been settled or who are hopeful of settlement or who have finally stabilized their lives after a long period of economic uncertainty, there is only one man to greet. He is Abdulaziz Yari Abubakar, the governor of Zamfara State and Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum. Happy New Year, Your Excellency.
–––Barkindo is Head, Media and Public Affairs at NGF